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Women’s Economic Security Act adds major protections

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Minnesota employers will have some new rules to follow after the state Legislature passed a bill aimed at re­­duc­­ing the gender pay gap and providing more protections to female employees.

In addition to requiring equal pay for women and men working for employers that contract with the state, the Women’s Economic Security Act adds a protected class of “familial status” to those already included in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. It also doubles the amount of unpaid leave available under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act from six weeks to 12 weeks.

Parts of the law took effect May 1, while other provisions become enforceable later this year.

The law allows employees to use leave for pregnancy-related needs. Employers with at least 22 employees must provide reasonable minor accommodations or a reasonable, temporary position transfer for pregnant workers.

The act also enhances employee rights to express breast milk that were originally granted in the federal Affordable Care Act health care re­form law. Under federal law, em­­ployers with fewer than 50 employees can refuse to allow employees to express breast milk if the employer can show doing so constitutes an undue burden. The new Min­­ne­­sota law allows employees who are denied this right to bring a lawsuit against the employer.

Employers with more than 50 employees seeking state contracts worth more than $500,000 must certify their compliance with existing equal pay laws.

Employers may no longer force employees to refrain from discussing wages with co-workers as a condition of employment. The law also allows employees to seek damages if an employer retaliates against the employee for discussing wages.

The bill also expands the right to unemployment compensation to those who must leave their jobs because of stalking or sexual assault. Previously, only victims of domestic violence could receive unemployment benefits. Similarly, the act requires employers to allow victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking to use paid sick leave for reasons related to those situations.

It also allows grandparents to use existing earned sick leave to care for an ill or injured grandchild.

Note: This law brings many changes to the workplace. Consult your attorney to update your handbooks, policies and procedures in light of this new law.

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